Centre research

Projects

Wellcome Trust Life of Breath: breathing in cultural, clinical and lived experience

Life of Breath is a five-year senior investigator award, funded by the Wellcome Trust awarded to Prof. Jane Macnaughton at Durham University and Prof. Havi Carel and the University of Bristol. The project examines historical, philosophical, cultural and anthropological aspects of breathing and breathlessness.

Darwinism and the Theory of Rational Choice

The overall aim of the research project, funded by the ERC and led by Prof. Samir Okasha and Prof. Ken Binmore, is to explore the connections between Darwinian evolutionary theory and the theory of rationality, from an overarching philosophical perspective. The starting point of the project is the existence of deep and interesting connections, both conceptual and formal, between evolutionary theory and rational choice theory.

Applying Homotopy Type Theory in Logic, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Physics

Homotopy Type Theory is an exciting new project in mathematics, founded by Steve Awodey and Vladimir Voevodsky. It assembles ideas from logic, computer science, and geometry to build a new approach to the basic ideas of mathematics.

It is radically different from the common set-theoretic foundational systems used by mathematicians, since it uses constructive rather than classical logic, type theory rather than set theory, and provides intensional rather than extensional definitions.

The aim of our three-year project is first to study and develop the philosophical underpinnings of Homotopy Type Theory to ensure that it provides a coherent philosophical foundation for mathematics. We then investigate the consequences of adopting this alternative foundation for questions in metaphysics, the structuralist account of philosophy of mathematics, and applications to physics.

Analogue Simulation in Modern Physics

This is a project in the philosophy of science within which we will evaluate the methodological, epistemological and metaphysical foundations of analogue simulation with the goal of providing analytic tools of direct use to scientists, philosophers of science, and science-funding decision makers.

We answer questions such as: What kind of evidence can analogue simulations provide?; What do analogue simulations have in common with computer simulations and experiments?; What is the scientific and economic value of analogue simulation?

We propose that analogue simulation can be understood as a form of 'Ersatz' experimentation, involving the 'programming' of a physical system such that it can be used to 'simulate' another physical system. In general terms, evidence gained from experiments on a particular system is only of real value to the extent to which we have justification for generalising it to a class of relevantly similar 'target' systems. Such justificatory arguments are called 'external validation' of an experiment.

One of the key ideas explored in this project is conditions for external validation of analogue simulations. For example, we aim to examine the conditions in which the analogue simulation of Hawking radiation via condensed matter systems can be externally validated: i.e. when we can genuinely learn about black holes by doing experiments on the analogues.

Foundations of Structuralism

(completed)

Professor James Ladyman led a three-year AHRC sponsored project on The Foundations of Structuralism. The project integrated work in philosophical logic, mathematics and physics concerning the nature of objects and individuality. Various formulations of structuralism were investigated, paying special attention to its conceptual and logical foundations.

Evolution, Co-operation and Rationality

This AHRC funded project commenced in 2008 and was led by Professor Samir Okasha and Professor Ken Binmore. The overall aim of the project was to study the philosophical implications of recent work in evolutionary biology on the topics of co-operation, social behaviour and the conflict between individual and group interests.

Evolutionary Theory

Several of the most interesting questions in evolutionary theory and its application arise at the interface of biology, mathematics, philosophy and game theory. The Centre will work with the Bristol Centre for Evolutionary Studies and the Bristol Centre for Behavioural Biology to explore the conceptual connections between evolutionary theory and rational choice theory, in relation to the study of decision-making, cooperation and social behaviour.

Numeracy

This project is being led by Dr James Thompson (Historical Studies) and supported by the Institute for Advanced Studies. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have long investigated the social and cultural history of literacy, yet there is no equivalent body of work on numeracy. The Numeracy project will develop an agenda for interdisciplinary research into the comparative history of numeracy and its uses, meaning and significance. It will explore the reception, as opposed to production, of numbers; the character and distribution of numerical skills within populations; how and why people used numbers in work and everyday life; and the cultural life and meanings of numbers.

Physics

Professor James Ladyman and Dr Mark Dennis (Physics) are currently involved in a project which concerns using the path integral approach to quantum mechanics to describe and ultimately perform a novel experiment in the new field of weak values and post-selection.

Professor Ladyman is also working with Professor Sandu Popescu (Physics) on the foundations of time-symmetric quantum mechanics.

Experiment

This project, which will be led by Professor Gareth Williams (Medicine) and Professor Alexander Bird, will explore the history and philosophy of experiment, starting with experiment in medicine. Professor Bird will work on the development of the randomised controlled trial, the use of statistics in medicine, and their philosophical foundations. Professor Williams - who has researched experimentation in the context of smallpox, variolation and vaccination in the past and is currently researching the history of polio, which includes several aspects of human experimentation - plans to initiate a project on the history of experiments on humans

Modelling in Climate Science

The Centre for Science and Philosophy will be collaborating with the Cabot Institute in an attempt to address the discrepancy between the way in which climate scientists model the uncertainty they ascribe to future climate scenarios and the way in which that uncertainty must be modelled if it is to inform decision and policy making. This is a serious practical problem on which we wish to shed a philosophical light using techniques from formal epistemology, but it is also a particular instance of a more general problem concerning how an agent might move from an epistemic situation of great uncertainty to a practical decision between alternative courses of action. This problem arises in computer vision and other areas of intelligent systems research. We will therefore bring together formal epistemologists from philosophy and modellers of uncertain reasoning from intelligent systems research in the hope that each can learn from the other's approach to the problem.

Experimental Philosophy "X-phi"

This research project applies the methods of experimental psychology to the study of intuitions.

CONTACT: Consciousness in Interaction

This collaborative research project is built on the idea that the brains and bodies of cognitive agents (humans and animals) interact dynamically with both their natural and social environments. CONTACT questions the assumption that conscious experience must be explained by the brain itself, as opposed to the embodied brain in interaction with environments. The project is co-funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF) - as part of its Consciousness in a Natural and Cultural Context programme - the AHRC, the CNR (Italy) and the NWO (the Netherlands).

Reading groups

The Centre is also involved with a number of reading groups.

Spiny pattern on a barrel cactus
Cogs, Venice: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Snail shell on glass

Photography Chris Bertram (all rights reserved), used with permission